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Fourth-Screen Scenarios in the Digital Home

If broadband service providers want to provide useful value-add services to consumers, then don't they need to become more fluent in the evolving domain of the digital home? It's a challenge, when most of your early-adopter customers know more than your typical front-line employee.

According to a new connected home devices study from ABI Research, fourth screen devices -- some new, some variants on ideas that have been around for several years -- promise novel experiences for users and potential new revenue streams for service providers.

These devices include digital photo frames, media phones, and Internet appliances. Media phones will be among the fastest-growing device types, and will generate a market value above $5 billion by 2014.

ABI industry analyst Michael Inouye says, "While the first media phone models only appeared late last year in the U.S. (earlier in Asia-Pacific), more than 30 million units will be shipped in 2014. These devices, which feature video playback, Internet connectivity, and some form of voice functionality, will be among the strongest performers among Fourth Screen products."

Digital photo frames have been in the market for some years, and currently ship in numbers that dwarf the other categories in this segment. Recently market growth has slowed somewhat, but a new Wi-Fi equipped variant is expected to show strong growth over the next few years before leveling off around 2013.

All these devices share one market obstacle. “Fourth screen devices in general are competing against more multifunction devices such as smartphones,” says Inouye.

But for consumers who want more permanent, dedicated control, they can be a compelling proposition. One key to success for all these new devices is the availability of "mainstream" consumer education. Will those people likely approach a broadband service provider for guidance? I doubt it.

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